With Super Bowl 53 just more than two weeks away and tens of thousands preparing to descend on Atlanta, there is growing concern about the ongoing partial government shutdown.
As it stands — with no settlement in sight as the shutdown is about to enter its fifth week — air travelers to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport could feel the pinch, starting with long lines at their home airports, but also air traffic controllers who are not as prepared as they’d like to be, according to NBC News:
Dan McCabe, a National Air Traffic Controllers Association representative, told NBC News that his colleagues had been holding meetings over the past year to prepare for the surge in travelers to the (Atlanta) area. But now the planning meetings, which included officials from his union, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Football League, have been grounded.
“As soon as the shutdown happened, these meetings stopped happening,” McCabe said. As a result, controllers feel less prepared than they’d like for the anticipated 1,500 additional flights a day to the area during Super Bowl week.
And the challenge isn’t just leading up to the big game on Feb. 3.
On a typical day, Hartsfield-Jackson Airport receives 60,000-80,000 passengers, according to NBC. More than 100,000 headed home are expected to pass through the airport on Feb. 4, a significant increase for federal employees working without pay.
“Obviously, we are in uncharted territory with the shutdown that’s gone on this long, and we are preparing as best we can from our vantage point,” Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said this week (per CBS News).
Still, Bottoms and others at a news conference said two years of planning have them well-prepared to protect the public.
“Our goal is for our officers to be visible, for the public to feel safe, be safe, and be able to position ourselves so that we can react immediately to whatever scenario we are confronted with,” Atlanta Police chief Erika Shields said. “I think that with anything you can go in with a spirit of confidence if you have prepared, and we have prepared well.”